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Forum Index > Off-topic Talk > Two book reviews, The Normans in Sicily, and The VikingsProduct Review Reply to topic
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Thom R.




Location: Tucson
Joined: 26 Jul 2007
Reading list: 30 books

Posts: 630

PostPosted: Fri 07 Sep, 2007 1:58 pm    Post subject: Two book reviews, The Normans in Sicily, and The Vikings         Reply with quote

I thought I should try to give back a little to the forum and noticed that two books that I have recently read and enjoyed very much did not have a myArmoury review. Both of these books should appeal to many here given the subject matter.

The first book is A History of the Vikings by Gwyn Jones. Itís not a new volume; it was originally published in 1968. This is not a history-lite book that is all too common these days, but rather is a comprehensive and thorough disposition on a rather complex society over the course of 5-6 centuries. This book is without doubt the best book (english language) I have come across about viking culture. The book, if nothing else dispels many of the negative stereotypes of the culture as being hell bent on raping and pillaging everything they came into contact with. Thatís not to say that the Vikings did not raid their neighbors, fight wars against other cultures and take slaves. They did. But so did the Gauls, Angles, Saxons and Jutes and the Goths Vandals and Celts before them. Primarily the story of the Vikings is a story about trade, these people were first and foremost traders, and their expansion was driven by economics. Rather than raiding and relying on plunder, the Vikings set up a system of trading outposts where they traded for goods with the local populations. The Vikings had what was at the time the most sophisticated and sound monetary system in Europe which utilized silver and gold coinage as well as precious metal and base metal beads for change. They had rudimentary insurance contracts. They provided security and protection to shippers to protect goods from piracy. At the pinnacle of Viking culture in the 9th and 10th centuries, the Viking trade system extended from Iceland all the way to Persia, which is why some of the most important information we have about the Viking culture comes from accounts from other cultures including Arabic and Byzantine traders. The Byzantine emperor hired the Vikings for his personal bodyguard (the Varangian Guard) and they used this position to further extend their trade network. The geographic span of this culture (Greenland to Byzantium, Portugal to the Ural Mtns) is amazing given the period and especially when you consider the state of technology at the time. In many respects, the story of the Vikings is about the power of economic incentive and freedom and innovation. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in that period between the end of the migration era and the rise of the great monarchies of the Middle Ages. The narrative style of writing is engaging and the text is littered with interesting sideline stories about some very interesting individuals like Canute the Great, Harald Hardrad, King Dag, Olav the Stout, and Leif Ericsson who made their mark on the world at that time. The key test I have with any history book is whether the book leaves the reader with a nice roadmap for further in-depth exploration of the subject matter or some nice side roads for further exploration, and this book excels at that. The hardcover copies are easy to find and cheap, however, the new paperback version has some more photos in it and is a larger format so the photos and illustrations are nicer in the reprint version.

The second book I am recommending is The Normans in Sicily: The Normans in the South 1016-1130 and the Kingdom in the Sun 1130-1194 by John Julius Norwich. This is a wonderful book about a very neglected piece of medieval history - the Norman conquest of Sicily. Although the invasion of England in 1066 gets a lot of attention, this particular piece of Norman history is every bit as interesting yet gets surprisingly little coverage. For me, Robert Guiscard is one of the more fascinating knights of the early 11th century. The conquest of Sicily started with a group of 8-10 adventuresome knights returning from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem from northern France who got "lost" and sidetracked on their way home thru Italy and decided to stay. At the start of the eleventh century Sicily was occupied by Saracens, Greeks (Byzantines), and Lombardian Italians and was a major trade port for goods flowing from the middle east into western europe via the ports in southern France and western Italy. Northern and Central Italy was the seat of the Holy Roman Empire, so the three most powerful empires in the region were all represented in Sicily at the start of the 11th century, yet the Normans were able to conquer Sicily. After getting settled with a few fiefdoms early in the century in 1059 a papal succession crisis started in Rome, while Byzantium was being attacked by the Caliphate, and that is when Robert Guiscard decided to strike with his Norman knights. What unfolds is a fascinating story of conquest, the founding of a kingdom ("the kingdom in the sun") and medieval military politics. The book has a comprehensive listing of all of Sicily's surviving Norman monuments and buildings, and is a must read for anyone visiting the island. This is simply a terrific book for anyone interested in medieval europe.
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Chad Arnow
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Location: Cincinnati, OH
Joined: 18 Aug 2003
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Reading list: 231 books

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PostPosted: Fri 07 Sep, 2007 2:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thom,
Thanks for these reviews. I see, though, that the reviews in your reading list are more brief. You might want to consider putting all this good text in there, too, since many people view the Bookstore who never log into the forums.

Happy

ChadA

http://chadarnow.com/
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Thom R.




Location: Tucson
Joined: 26 Jul 2007
Reading list: 30 books

Posts: 630

PostPosted: Fri 07 Sep, 2007 2:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
Thom,
.............You might want to consider putting all this good text in there, too, since many people view the Bookstore who never log into the forums.


Will do. I have a card from Borders and they send out email coupons quite regularly and every once in a blue moon they send a 30% off coupon which is really a good deal and will get you a new book cheaper than Amazon or anywhere else for that matter. I just used one of those to buy Agincourt: Henry V and the Battle That Made England by Juliet Barker and I am about a third of the way into it and I have to say it is also very well done and is another book that would appeal to many here. I will write a review of that after I am done. Maybe its because I love Shakespeare but Henry V is another person that I find fascinating. Barker makes a very good case for the battle being very very politically important not just for France but for Henry's rule at home. tr
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Chuck Russell




Location: WV
Joined: 17 Aug 2004
Reading list: 46 books

Posts: 936

PostPosted: Fri 07 Sep, 2007 4:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

good preview! thanks. i have both books in my library but alas have not been able to get to them. i think i started the jones book in just after college while in denmark of 98. dont think i finished it.
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